Friday, August 21, 2009

Big Red Drum


Hidden in my heart
is a giant imagination.

Hidden in that giant imagination
there is a long poem.

Hidden in that long poem
is a tiny baby crying for love.

Hidden in that tiny baby
is a gray clock telling the time.

Hidden in that gray clock
is my joyful life.

Hidden in my joyful life
is my big family.

Hidden in my big family
is my huge heart.

Hidden in my huge heart
is a little red drum keeping me alive.

Arianna B.
3rd Grader
Golightly Educational Center
InsideOut Student
Detroit Public Schools

Thanks to all those who were able to participate or who helped spread the word about the Community Foundation Challenge Fund. It was a terrific show of strength and generosity towards not only InsideOut but to the entire Southeast Michigan Arts Community.

To all of you who make up the BIG FAMILY in the JOYFUL LIFE that is INSIDEOUT, know too that you are the BIG RED DRUM that helps keep us and our song and OUR LONG POEM alive and beating.

And the beat goes on, and on, thanks to you,
Peter Markus

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Time is Now


My face
is a book

of invisible
scars. Each 

scar tells
a story.

Each story

Back when I
was small.

Alex G.
Southwestern High School
InsideOut Student
Detroit Public Schools

This bit of tenderness from a six-foot tall, puffy-faced high school student who didn't like to talk. 

I wish I'd written this, yes, for sure. 

But I'm glad that, as a kid, I didn't see myself in this particularly skewed way—or maybe I did but I simply didn't know how to put words to what I was seeing—a way that made Alex, when he looked into his mirror, see a face that was "a book of invisible scars."

Only the poet in us knows what I like to call "the real me, the one nobody sees." I borrow this line from Sandra Cisnersos' The House on Mango Street and use it to get students to look closely, to dig deeper, to feel and then speak and make art from that feeling.

Sometimes that "real me" is larger than life, a spiritual giant of sorts.

Take a look at this poem by Quin'dara, one of those rare students who was born to be a poet.


The real me
that nobody sees
is walking
on mid air.

When the wind
blows hard
I do not fall.

There is always a piece
of mid-air wind
that I alone
am walking on.

No one understands
that I am the one
bringing the wind
its destination.

The wind stands over
and watches over
everyone. I am like
another God

that nobody sees
walking across the sky.

Quin'dara G.
Southwestern High School
InsideOut Student
Detroit Public Schools

Once again, I wish I'd written this.

I hope you'll consider making a donation, TODAY, yes, the TIME is NOW, to the InsideOut Literary Arts Project through the Community Foundation's challenge grant. Go the website NOW (the site goes live at 10:00 a.m. EST) and stretch your gift to InsideOut by 50%.


Help more poets like Quin'dara see and give voice to "the real me." 

Help more students like Alex G. give themselves permission to say what they otherwise wouldn't be able to say.

That's what we're all about here at InsideOut.

What is inside us, waiting unseen and hiding unheard, needs to be brought out.

As real as I can be, 
Peter Markus

P.S. A big THANK YOU to all of you who read these email pleas and THANKS to EVERY ONE of you, whether you can donate now or not, I've appreciated all the kind words written and spoken back to me in response to the words of these InsideOut students.

A Baseball as Big as This


A baseball
as big
as this
could knock
a hole
through the
house where
the president
lives. You
could play
catch with 
God with
a baseball
as big
as this. 
And after
you are
done playing
with it
you can
throw it
back to
the sky.

Kwame, 4th Grade
Fitzgerald Elementary
InsideOut Student
Detroit Public Schools

This is Kwame's written response to Robert Moskowitz's painting "Hard Ball III" which is a part of the permanent collection at The Detroit Institute of the Arts.

If you've been to the DIA, it's the painting of a silhouetted pitcher in the background and a baseball in the forefront that is, as the poem suggests, very BIG.

When I first looked at this painting, all I thought of was a rising fastball too high to hit. 

Kwame sees this image beyond the sport itself: it becomes a cosmic image in his hands, something akin to the sun and moon.

I wish I saw the world through his eyes.

I wish I'd written this.

To support more student writing about art (and baseball) I hope you'll consider participating in the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan Challenge Grant.

The challenge begins TOMORROW at 10 a.m., August 18th, and will end as soon as the $1,000,000 is exhausted, so it's crucial for supporters of InsideOut to go online to take advantage of these available matching funds.

More info can be found here:

To learn more about InsideOut go here:

Remember: first pitch is TOMORROW, August 18th, at 10 a.m. sharp. 

It's a race for the prize. Help us hit one out of the park.

Best wishes from the bullpen,
Peter Markus

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Love Is a Big Blue Cadillac

Love Is a Big Blue Cadillac 

that never runs 
out of gas. It drives 
all the way down 
to Mississippi 
to see his wife. 
I watch them kiss. 

When they kiss,
the sun rises 
like a cherry
into the sky 
turning the whole 
universe red.

         These words, written by Treshon, a third-grader at Fitzgerald Elementary, define a love that all of us should aim for. Treshon’s vision for Love (in the uppercase) is the bull’s-eye all of us should shoot our arrows towards. It’s a love that lasts because it “never runs out of gas.” It's a love that goes out of the way, beyond the limits of reason, “it drives all the way down to Mississippi,” for a simple kiss. That kiss, witnessed as it is by the speaker of this poem, has the power to transform the world where this kiss is lipsticked, where this kiss is forever planted onto the page. The love that leads up to this kiss is a love that is more powerful and permanent than ourselves: it is bigger than me, the poem tells us, it is bigger than us all: it's a spiritual love that can move mountains, that can take a crumb of bread and feed those of us who come with an open mouth and open heart to take in this poem's power. Love, according to this poem, love, in the eyes of this young poet, is cosmic, it can summon the sun out of hiding so that the whole universe is burning red with love, love, love.

         I love in the poem’s final line the precision of and the placement of that word, “whole.” Not just “my” world, “my” universe, not just the singular, the solipsistic “Me, Myself, & I” that stands at the center of so much poetry. But the WHOLE universe, says the big heart of this child. Because love, Treshon wants us to know, is what connects us all to skies that our eyes have never before seen. And it seems to me that in times like these, more than ever before, we need this kind of love, we need these words—these acts—of love.

Unlike Treshon's big blue Cadillac, the InsideOut Literary Arts Project runs on a gas that needs refueling. If you think poems like Treshon's are vital to us as a cultural community, I hope you'll consider participating in our latest fundraising opportunity to add fuel and fire to our engine. 

On August 18th, beginning at 10:00 a.m., all gifts donated to the InsideOut Literary Arts Project through the Community Foundation website will be half-matched. A donation of $25, for example, ends up as $37.50 in the InsideOut gas tank.

You can keep the Cadillac running. You can spread the love.

Every little kiss counts.

Go here for more info about InsideOut:
Go here for more info about the Community Foundation Challenge Grant:
Make this page your homepage to remind you about the 18th:

Affectionately yours and rolling towards the interstate,
Peter Markus

Saturday, August 15, 2009

I Wish I'd Written This


I have a river
in my back yard.

The sun is a fish
in the sky.

My dad likes
to catch fish

with his feet.
There is a fish

that likes to jump
on the moon.

At night
the fish creates fire

by hammering
two moon rocks together

with a fishing pole
so he can cook himself up

in the morning
for breakfast.

Javon, 5th Grade
Fitzgerald Elementary
Detroit Public Schools

If you think poems like this one need to be written and heard, I hope you'll consider pitching in on August 18th to keep the river flowing.

Click here to donate to the InsideOut Literary Arts Project and watch your gift grow thanks to the Community Foundation Challenge Grant.

If fishes were wishes, I'd have a bucket filled with gold.

Fish on,
Peter Markus

Monday, August 10, 2009

Community Foundation Challenge Grant

Dear Friends,

The InsideOut Literary Arts Project, where I work as its Senior Writer, is looking for your help.

For the past 15 years, InsideOut has placed creative writers—poets, novelists, short story writers—into Detroit Public School classrooms as a way of getting students to actively engage in the power and pleasure of language and the imagination.

I've been a writer with InsideOut since its inception. It's a part of who I am in the world. I can tell you, first-hand, that the work we do changes lives. 

When a child picks up a pencil and is asked to gaze up inside it, anything—no everything—is possible.

When you write it down, I often tell them, people have no choice but to listen, to see what you see, to know what you know.

See for yourself. Check out this poem written by a 4th grader at Fitzgerald Elementary. 

Until Dark Time
--in memory of my mom

Back when I was five
something bad happened.

I'm nine now. But back
when I was five

my mom worked
at a job

in a big black
building. I kept on

bugging her
that day

to let me come
to work with her.

My mom kept saying
no sweetheart

you can't come
to work with me

because, she said,
she had to work.

When my mom went to work
that day, my mom,

she never came back.
My brother and me, we waited

until dark time
for our mom to come back home.

I waited and watched
for the car

to drive up
to drop off my mom.

My neighbor came over,
her name is Monique.

We went inside our house
and ate, and drank,

then I played
with my neighbor Miranda

until Bookie came over
with her white car.

We drove
in that white car

to the church
to see

my mom. At church,
it was blue

inside there
like the sky.

Three days later
it was Christmas.

The bus that hit
my mom as she waited

at the bus stop---
the driver

of that bus
was drunk.

He didn't even know
what he did

when he ran
that bus up against

the bus stop bench
killing my mom.

Let me tell you what I knew about Dion before he wrote that poem. 

Dion was that quiet kid in the back of the classroom. Before he wrote that poem I can honestly say that I didn't know who Dion was. He was just a faceless name. A nameless face. When, at the end of our session together, I collected what the students had written on this particular day, and when I found what Dion had written down, I couldn't believe what I was reading. I couldn't put a name to its face. 

So I walked back into Mr. Petis's room, apologized for the interruption, and whispered into his teacherly ear, "Which one is Dion?" He pointed to a small, frail-looking child in the back of the room. Dion reminded me of a bird that had fallen out of its nest. I couldn't believe that such big words could be contained by such a small body.

I don't recall the actual assignment that triggered Dion's poem. I know with complete certainty that I did not ask the students to write about loss, or the death of a loved one. I tend to use language as a tool to celebrate and revel rather than to grieve. There is enough grief in the worlds of these children without me forcing them to look in places where they might not want to look. 

It's possible that the assignment that day was simply to write about something happened back when you were little. Maybe I had asked them to write about a "first" in their life: the first time they rode a bike, or flew a kite, or went fishing. You get the picture. I didn't expect to find a poem about a young boy losing his mother to a drunk driver. 

I was torn up and blown away by what I found and so I pulled Dion out of the classroom and we sat down in the hallway and we spoke about what he'd just a few minutes ago written. I remember telling Dion that the poem he just wrote was really powerful and beautiful and sad and I remember also asking him if what he'd written down was true. Why I asked this I don't know the reason why. Maybe I was hoping he'd made it up so that I wouldn't have to imagine his grief.

But he nodded yes, mostly with his eyes, and said that it was and from here he went on to re-tell me some of the details of what had happened. It was a crushing half hour that we spent together out in the quiet hum of his massive inner city elementary school with close to two-thousand other Dions sitting in classrooms just like his. 

I know I'll never forget it. I hope that Dion remembers it still. I like to believe that moments like these don't simply disappear. For me the moment is forever fixed in time because of the poem which, whenever I return to it, I am transported back to that day when this little bird of a boy whose life and name I hardly knew changed my own life forever. 

Dion went on, later in the year, to read this poem in front of hundreds of people at our year-end InsideOut gala celebration. Here again Dion's works left their mark on all those who were there to hear it.

That's just one story behind just one of the many poems written each year in an InsideOut classroom. Now that I've been taken back, through time and space, by Dion's poem, I remember now that this was a poem written in the year immediately after the events of 9/11. That same year a 5th grader at the same school wrote this short poem:

In My Hands

In my hands
the twin towers
still stand
like waterfalls
always falling.

The world, though, thank goodness, is not always so dark. I'd say most of the poems written by these young poets sing and celebrate what to them is beautiful and loved in their lives. I could bombard you with a whole slew of poems here, but instead I'll hit you with just this one, a poem from a 3rd grader called "A Love That is Bigger Than Me."

A Love That is Bigger Than Me

I love the moon
when it is shining

big and white
over the whole world.

I love the touch
of red fresh apples.

I love the power
of my magic pencil.

I love the song
of birds singing

in the morning.
I love the moon

singing at night.
My mother

is more beautiful
than the moon.

She smells better
than ten-thousand

flowers growing
across the world.

If you've stayed with me this far and have read the poems up above then I believe that you have begun to see and to believe in what we do at InsideOut.

If you'd like more information, please check out our website:

If you'd like to help us continue to do what we do, here's what you can do next:

The Community Foundation of Southeast Michigan will match us with a dollar for every two dollars donated to InsideOut through their current Community Foundation challenge grant. So, for instance, a donation of $50 ends up as a $75 gift to us.

Here are the details: 
Beginning August 18, beginning at 10:00 a.m. go to to make a gift through the Community Foundation's safe and easy website. Organizations are listed in a pull-down menu. Gifts can range from $25 -$10,000. Donations must be made via the site through credit card and e-check in order to be matched.

These matching funds will go fast. We are the only literary arts organization of our kind that has been selected for this program. So if you care about youth and literary self-expression I hope that you will become a donor.

I tell my students, "Reach deep. Every word is a gift." It was St. Therese who said, some 400 years ago, "Words lead to deeds.... They prepare the soul, make it ready, and move it to tenderness."

All best wishes and ready to both give and receive, with much appreciation,